Tenth Anniversary: Our Favorite Natural Gardens

Get more information about the natural garden of the year choices. When you’re finished, vote for your favorite!


1. From Eyesore to Enchantment

In Laguna Beach, a drainage ditch is transformed into a paradise through a couple’s love as well as their passion for the environment. Although considered a poor location, due to a metal drain that collected water from the surrounding hills, Chris and Heidi Prelitz bought the plot with a goal of an eco-friendly home and a lush garden. Chris, a general contractor with a passion for sustainable building and permaculture, built retaining walls, terraces and beds to prevent erosion on the steeply sloped land. Through observations of natural water flow, Chris designed paths and stepping-stone stairways while creating a wall around the storm drain and a basin for the fruit trees made of broken concrete.  

2. Garden for Good Life

With 320-acres of land, most people would attempt to clear and conquer it, but for recent landowners Nancy and John Schaeffer, the challenge was how to live in harmony with all the land’s natural beauty. The couple, along with the assistance of their students, set out to build an off-the-grid house and surround it with organic vegetable gardens that enhance the ecosystem rather than compete with it. Sustaining the earth has always been John’s central focus, and this project was no exception. The couple concentrated their green efforts on landscaping and gardening first. 

3. Pasadena Paradise: The Perfect Garden with Creative Urban Results

Pasadena, California, homeowner Jules Dervaes, his son Justin and daughters Anaïs and Jordanne, take a trip behind the house to eat organic food. The family of four raises three tons of food each year–enough to supply three-quarters of their diet and maintain a thriving organic produce business to boot. Jules is a strong believer in feeding the soil to produce quality organic crops. Every week during growing season, he dilutes one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of a commonly available kelp fertilizer in a gallon of water and sprays it directly on the plants.  

4. Serenity in Bloom: A Colorado Garden

In their Colorado garden, homeowners strategically planned and designed the layout–a labor of love that took them a decade. Their garden is home to a wide range of plants, trees and herbs such as crabapple trees, tulips, foxtail lilies, daylilies, thyme and hostas. A tiny teahouse, nine-by-nine-feet, is a reminder that the garden’s primary purpose is to promote meditation and reflection. The contemplative garden they’ve created gently nods to Asian style while embracing European impressionism. 

5. He’s Got the Dirt: Jim Wilson

Author of 14 garden books and former cohost of the PBS show “Victory Garden,” Jim Wilson lives on a 15-acre parklike property with his partner, Janie Lynn Mandel. Referred to as Friendship Farm, the garden features meticulous landscapes and a pond. A few of their crops include collards, lettuce, spinach, summer squash, cucumbers and turnips. The Columbia, Missouri, garden is kept neat as the tasks are split between Jim and Janie Lynn. He is the grower and she is the designer, as he affectionately put it. He and Janie have divided their 1,000-square-foot cottage garden into handy mini-gardens that they easily can plant, harvest and then rotate into the next succession crop.  

6. Water-Wise Oasis: Brad Lancaster

In one of the country’s most arid climates, Brad Lancaster created a lush garden in Tucson, Arizona, that is irrigated entirely with harvested rainwater and graywater. Through an innovative sustainable home horticulture that was inexpensive and simple, Brad transformed a barren yard into a green oasis. Strongly influenced by “water farmer” Zephania Phiri Maseko in Zimbabwe, Brad applied sustainable farming practices to his garden and the results were remarkable. Today his simple philosophy of “plant water before you plant plants” guides him in furthering his lush green foliage in of the driest climates.  

7. A Garden of Wander and Whimsy

Farmer, social activist, former chef and homeowner Diana Bingham transformed an abandoned and run down property into a farm paradise. With her dreams of sustainability and community in mind, Diana, with help from gardener Rod Payne-Meyer, developed a garden plan that would revive the land. Diana was inspired by the architecture and built a garden wall made of traditional dry-stacked stone and even added bits of old farm machinery into tiny crevasses. Affectionately named after her pair of beloved Scottish terriers, Two Scottie Farm is now home to rolling rocky pastures, aged fruit trees, wooded hillsides and a pond-like area fed by a natural spring. 

8. Simply Lush

For homeowners James and Penny Livingston, the most important way to reduce energy consumption and waste is to grow your own food. From fruits to nuts, this garden, just a quarter mile east of the San Andreas Fault in Point Reyes, California, is an untamed acre that was a grand experiment gone right: permaculture at its finest. The couple believes that the success of their labors originated by simply watching mother nature work and then mimicking her behavior. 

9. A Garden Full of Secrets

Jill Nokes, an Austin, Texas, landscape designer, has long had an interest in the folk gardens of south Texas and Mexico, and they have inspired her own spectacular garden and storybook garden wall. With her husband, Jack, the couple has created a tribute to folk artists through their plant selection and collected objects. The whimsical garden is a canvas for unrestrained creativity, uninhibited playfulness and spiritual reverence. The highlight of the garden is a wall that acts as an archeological diary, from seventy-million-year-old fossils to marbles from Hobby Lobby. A birdbath bowl makes a large blue circle on the street side of the wall, while a male figure from the same birdbath adorns a mini-grotto. 

10. Off the Grass

Carolyn Linville and Larry Holgerson moved into their ranch-style home in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, with the intentions of substituting the grass with a thriving ecosystem. The family moved into a two-lot property that had a large backyard filled with grass. Today their “grass reduced” yard features a vegetable garden, a potato field and a pond that is home to goldfish, several koi and half a dozen frogs. The pond is the highlight of the backyard at eight-by-four-feet and was another tactic in the no-mowing strategy.